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Originality and spontaneity mark the Swaralaya Sydney Music Festival’s tenth anniversary
Musical improvisation is the creative activity of in-the-moment musical composition, which combines performance with communication of emotions and technique as well as spontaneous response to other musicians on stage. The artist invents melodies and rhythm on stage to create harmony. This creativity (manodharma) is a core component, with mastery over technique, for an Indian classical musician to be successful and be in tune with the audience. Every single concert featured in the Swaralaya Sydney Music Festival at the Riverside Theatres on 11, 12 and 13 June by artists from India exhibited this spontaneity and originality in abundance making the experience a rich tapestry of varied hues and textures for all.
Though Swaralaya started with a change in schedule and disappointment over the absence of popular vocalist Bombay Jayashree, the festival was inaugurated by a unique experience of one of the oldest instruments ever, with a history of about 2000 years, the chitraveena. Mastering this instrument is a challenge as it is one of the few instruments played without direct human contact (of the fingers on the strings). One of the famed Carnatica Brothers, P. Ganesh presented this concert.
Music is often the yearning of the self for the supreme. O.S Arun’s concert was replete with devotion to the Lord and the art form of music. Wafting raga bhava melodiously meshing with sahitya bhava, an array of compositions expressing varied moods, O.S. Arun carried the audience with him. ‘Arul seiyya vendum ayya’ in Rasikapriya, ‘Srivalli devasenapathe’ in Natabahiravi, ‘Jagadhodharana’ in kapi and ‘Erakkam varamal’ in Behag liberated the seeker with its lilting expression.
With an enviable range, and an erudite repertoire firmly rooted in classicism, Sikkil Gurucharan regaled with his eloquent music. A judicious choice of krithis, well balanced with rare ragas like Naga Nandini at one end of the spectrum and popular ones like Kapi and Mand at the other end with lyrical Anandabhairavi and languorous Varali interspersed in between. Hard-core Carnatic concerts can ideally have a good mix of everything: this was exemplified by Sikkil Gurucharan.
Chaste is the word that comes to mind when one listens to O.S Thiagarajan. An experienced artist can feel the inner depths of the ocean of music and articulate the subtleties of the art form in a touching manner. The Thyagaraja krithis rendered by this master musician, one that is the namesake and of the lineage of the great Saint Thyagaraja himself, was a lesson learnt on the core of classicism. The kalpana swarams in thodi, the ragam thanam pallavi in Khambhoji with the alluring verses of rangam, srirangam, ranganathan urangum arangam, was replete with a sense of inner peace .The clarity of notes bowed out by Embar Kannan and the alluring swara phrases augmenting raga bhava had to be heard to be believed.
Madurai.R.Muralidharan presented “Yadava Madhava” with Sydney based dance school, Pathmalaya Academy of Fine Arts, students of Pathmaranjani Umashankar. Muralidharan aims to produce dance dramas on the same lines as a Broadway musical, with dancing and drama enjoying equal status in the production. Some interesting stories of Krishna were enacted with elaborate musical arrangement, strong group choreography and intense acting. Special mention must be made to Vaishnavi who played the role of Khamsa with strength and vigour. The dancers presenting Krishna at different stages of his life were impressive, with Kavyalakshmi completing the circle with a vibrant presentation of Kalinga narthanam. A treat for the senses, with its audio-visual effects.
In a duet, thee performers act as a perfect foil to each other. The concert of the Carnatica Brothers, K.N. Shashikiran and P. Ganesh, epitomised this perfect complementing of two souls dedicated to the art form. Rare and popular ragams and compositions were dealt with ease, exhibiting the depth of knowledge possessed. Some highlights were the crisp poruttham swarams at ‘Purandaradi Sannutha’ in Gambheera Nattai, an appropriate tribute, the ragam tanam pallavi in Brindavani that was dedicated to the great M.S. Subbalakshmi, followed by a rare composition ‘Sonnal podado’, written by Agastyar and composed by Chitraveena N. Ravikiran.
‘Strings attached’ by Kumaresh on the violin and Jayanthi on the veena was a sonic experience refreshingly different. They were accompanied by Sri. J. Vaidyanathan on the mridangam, and Sri. Sundar Kumar on the kanjira. The vibrant kalpana swaram in Kanada and the soulful raga alapana in Hamsanandi left the audience longing for more. A true union is the melodies that you can play with ease on vibrating strings and this was palpable both in its literal and figurative manner in this concert that pulled at the heartstrings of all in the audience.
“It’s a unique Carnatic music festival outside India,” Jayanthi says with appreciation. “Such a commendable effort to bring the cream of Indian music to that part of the globe in such a planned, aesthetic and organised fashion. The personal care and meticulousness taken by Shri.Jeyendran and his family is absolutely admirable. It was heartwarming to see sold out, houseful concerts over a long weekend to an audience that is receptive to new ideas without being judgemental.”
T.M.Krishna’s recital resonated the intense power of music and the sheer joy and fulfillment when communicating and connecting with other human beings through music, experienced both by artists and audience. The neraval of ‘Hara hara endru sonnalum podado…’ followed by a thani avartanam on the kanjira by Sri. Sundar Kumar brought to focus the beauty of the lyrics. Says Pallavan, Sydney based mrindangist, “Listening to the percussionists on stage during the festival honed my sense of enhancing the aesthetics of percussion when accompanying a concert and highlighting the underlying emotive content of the music with appropriate application of technique.”
Devika Krishnamurthy, Sydney based vocalist and student of music says “T.M. Krishna surprised even himself by beginning an alapanai in raga Nalinakanthi followed by the popular kriti ‘Manavyalakim’.” The elaborate kalapana swarams in the lower octave resounded with such beauty and clarity that it was a sensual feast. The dhim dhimi and kin kini of Krishna’s anklets was heard by one and all as the earthly Krishna brought the divine Krishna to life in ‘Baro Krishnayya’.
Charulatha Mani (vocal) and Ganesh (chitraveena) were unique in their dynamism and showcased classical music in its pristine form in ‘Amba Kamakshi’ in Bhairavi, which took centrestage, and lighter compositions as in ‘Maname ganamum’. Ganesh’s chitraveena made it easy for Charulatha to dovetail between ragas and manoeuver expertly between compositions of varied styles. The ragam, tanam in Hindolam was a pleasure to listen to, followed by the kriti ‘Maa ramanan’, handled very maturely by the young, talented violinist Aarushi Ramesh. Says Charulatha Mani, “I was enthused to see such a great response from the audience and very impressed with the magnitude and togetherness that was palpable during the festival.”
The first after-lunch concert is always a struggle for both the musician and audience, considering the rasikas’ elaborate meals thanks to those WhatsApp messages which ensure that all delicacies of the Indian cuisine are covered over the three-day festival. Though Saketharaman challenged himself and audience even further by his choice of Neelambari, it was aesthetically contrasted with high octave renditions such as Tyaagaraja’s ‘Varanaradha’ and a rare Tamil composition ‘Sikkal Mendhiya’. Comments Sanjay Ramaswamy, with admiration, “Raga Sindhubhairavi was an exhibition of vocal gymnastics and when HN Bhaskar followed with tanam it mesmerised the audience into thinking MSG was on stage”. Saketharaman handled the pallavi with mastery, incorporating a jathi in the Poorvangam and the line ‘Aadidum Eeshanai Panivo’ in the Uttarangam. It was an energy-led virtuoso performance that made it evident that Saketharaman is amongst the modern day elite Carnatic vocalists.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to describe a Ranjani-Gayathri concert, as the pair keep raising their benchmark of performance whilst maintaining a strict dedication to Concert Paddathi, a most enviable trait amongst Carnatic musicians,” opines Sanjay Ramaswamy. After Ranjani gave a beautiful outline of Reethigowlai which the pair followed with Tyagaraja’s ‘Raga Rathna’, they alternated in elaborating the main raga for the afternoon Simendramadhyamam, displaying Ranjani’s huskier tones in the lower octaves with Gayathri’s effortless range to traverse the higher octaves. ‘Raga’ as the pair are more commonly known, never fail to disappoint their loving fans, and delivered a Dwinadai RTP in Sahana, taking ragams such as Hamsanadham and Jog during the Pallavi. A Ranjani-Gayathri recital would be incomplete without an abhang, which was brilliant in its delivery with everyone visibly enjoying and appreciating the genius of the pair’s unique Hindustani trained skillset. Overall, the duo’s carefully thought-out song list meant there was always a contrast of ragas, krithis and composers with HN Bhaskar, Manoj Siva and Sri Sundar Kumar providing the ideal foil for the singers to express themselves and give Sydney music lovers another memorable Swaralaya concert.
The Swaralaya Music Festival concluded with an extraordinary jugalbandhi by Mysore Manjunath on the violin and Vishal Bhatt on the mohanaveena. Vishal Bhatt began with an elaboration of Rag Charukesi. In its purest form, Charukesi has both a Carnatic and Hindustani flavour which made it the perfect raga choice for this platform. Bhatt and Manjunath intertwined swift technical phrases with slower, bhava orientated ones and presented a line in a variety of speeds and forms, enriched thoroughly when both percussionists J Vaidhyanathan on mridangam (accompanying Manjunath) and Himanshu Mahant on tabla (accompanying Vishal) entered the fray. Says Sanjay Ramaswamy, Sydney based vocalist, violinist and more importantly an ardent rasika of music, “There was almost a telepathic understanding between all four performers on stage, all the more remarkable given that it was all extempore. It was an unbelievable musical experience that integrated two schools of music into perfect unison.”
Says Siva, Sydney-based mridangist, “Listening to mridangam vidwans J. Vaidyanathan, Manoj Siva and Tanjore Murugaboopathy was a great learning experience as each had their own distinct style.”
Reminisces Santha Sampath, a knowledgeable rasika of Carnatic music, “We have supported the Swaralaya Music Festival every year for the past 10 years organised by one single family, the Jeyendrans, which is commendable. It gives me great pleasure to host some of the musicians, and for all of us in the community to engage in this cultural interaction and informal discussion with musicians. It is also a wonderful opportunity for our youngsters and those that are unable to go to Chennai for the music season to enjoy a similar experience here in Sydney.”
The Swaralaya music festival marches forward celebrating its 10th year carrying the torch of the classical arts. What more can one ask for when a community event like this is a win-win situation all around for the artists and the audience.